The final contenders for The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2017 have been revealed. The following three players remain in the running for this coveted award, having been narrowed down from an initial shortlist of 24, selected by a panel of FIFA Legends.
The voting process was split evenly betweenfour evenly-weighted categories: national coaches, national captains, select members of the media and fans. The winner will be revealed at the ceremony in London on 23 October.
The recipient of the inaugural The Best FIFA Men’s Player Award in January 2017 has undoubtedly done enough to be firmly in the running to retain his title in London. In addition to winning the Spanish league – in which he was third in the scoring charts – and the FIFA Club World Cup last term, the Portuguese added another UEFA Champions League crown to his CV and remarkably finished as the competition’s leading marksman for the fifth-straight season. By increasingly adjusting his position, pacing himself and recognising the need to conserve resources, Ronaldo is reinventing himself and ensuring that his goalscoring instincts stay at the fore in spite of his advancing age. Yet, despite another stellar year, Portugal’s semi-final loss in the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 will surely continue to rankle with this fiercest of competitors.
La Pulga remains as decisive as ever for both club and country. The Argentinian national team are a completely different beast without Messi, as has been laid bare once more on the road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Meanwhile, the pint-sized forward’s 37 league goals kept Barça in the title race right down to the wire last season, as well as earning him his fourth Pichichi Trophy, awarded to the leading goalscorer in the Spanish top flight. He also finished as the joint-top marksman in the Copa del Rey, which the Catalans captured again, and as the second-highest scorer in the UEFA Champions League.
Already the linchpin of the Brazilian national team, Neymar bolstered his standing this year by helping A Seleção become the first side to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. He was similarly instrumental for Barcelona last term, even if his tally of 20 goals in all competitions dropped from 31 in the previous campaign and 39 before that. In contrast, his contributions elsewhere increased, with Neymar delivering 21 assists – a personal best. The Brazil forward was also one of the heroes of the famous ‘Remontada’ against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, conjuring up two goals and an assist in an unforgettable second leg. Neymar then signed for the French club in August, opting for a fresh challenge in the most expensive transfer deal in history.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is undoubtedly one of the strongest and quickest attacking players in the world right now. Capable of playing across the front line, the 28-year-old consistently troubles opposition defences regardless of whether he is playing out on the wing or at centre-forward. The Gabon international proved that marksmanship is another of his greatest assets by scoring 31 goals in 32 appearances for Borussia Dortmund during the 2016/17 season. This achievement made him the first Bundesliga player in 40 years to find the target more than 30 times in a single campaign, and only the fourth ever to do so after Lothar Emmerich, Gerd Muller and Dieter Muller. Although BVB’s efforts were only enough for them to end last season in third place, the striker and his team-mates lifted the DFB Cup. Aubameyang is also Gabon’s captain and all-time leading goalscorer.
Thought of as one of the most imposing and technically-gifted central defenders in world football, Leonardo Bonucci has been winning trophies consistently throughout his career. 2017 was no different as his leadership abilities went a long way in helping Juventus win an astonishing sixth consecutive Serie A league title, a third consecutive Coppa Italia trophy and earn a return to the UEFA Champions League final. Bonucci forms an integral part of Italy’s efforts to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, and Gli Azzurri are on track to qualify for a 13th straight world finals. Now wearing the black and red stripes of AC Milan, Bonucci brings a high tactical awareness mixed with a tenacious hunger to win every challenge each time he steps on to the pitch.
Italy’s most capped player in their history, Gianluigi Buffon is still at the top of his craft, leading from the back for Gli Azzurri and Juventus. His latest efforts saw him guide Juve to a record sixth consecutive Serie A title – his eighth with I Bianconeri – which saw him equal the all-time record as the player with the most Italian league title victories. He may be nearing the 40-year-old mark, but that has not stopped the FIFA World Cup™ winner from stepping up his game and setting new personal records, as his 600 minutes without conceding in the UEFA Champions League last season would indicate. Buffon leads both Italy and Juventus as captain, doing so with a contagious passion and desire that has left him as one of the greatest goalkeepers the game has seen.
In his element anywhere along the right flank, Dani Carvajal is a dogged defender who transforms into a speedy winger when the opportunity to get forward arises. Still just 25, he has been a key figure in Real Madrid’s recent success and won his second FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Champions League last season, not to mention a first La Liga title. A regular for Spain at every youth level, Carvajal is now a mainstay of the La Roja squad who are battling to reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. This would be the talented right-back’s first experience of the global extravaganza.
Having spent 2015/16 adjusting to life at the top with Juventus and Argentina, Paulo Dybala enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last season, proving he is no longer just an exciting future prospect for both titantic teams. He initially refused the No10 shirt at Juve after Paul Pogba’s departure, but crucially embraced the responsibilities that go with the role and helped drive the club to success thanks to his goalscoring acumen, reading of the game and set-piece delivery. Those qualities proved vital as La Vecchia Signora clinched another Serie A title as well as runners-up spot in the UEFA Champions League, Dybala having delivered a masterclass in the quarter-final defeat of Barcelona. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder was similarly prominent for Argentina, emerging as a first-team fixture alongside Lionel Messi. He now looks a leading candidate to replace his friend and idol in the coming years.
Antoine Griezmann headed into 2016/17 knowing it would be tough to hit the same heights he scaled the previous season. One of three candidates for The Best FIFA Men’s Player award after reaching the finals of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA EURO 2016, the Frenchman had set the bar high, but he still managed to flourish last term, confirming his standing – and that of Atletico Madrid – as the third major force in Spanish football. Griezmann weighed in with 16 goals and eight assists as Los Colchoneros finished third in La Liga and advanced to the semi-finals of the Champions League and Copa del Rey, losing out to Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. Equally influential at international level, Griezmann underlined his importance as one of France’s key players, providing goals and dynamism in attack as Les Bleus made a strong start in the FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers.
It now seems a long time since Eden Hazard and Chelsea looked a pale shadow of themselves in 2015/16, struggling together en route to a mid-table Premier League finish. The Belgian playmaker surged back to his best last term, buoyed by leading displays at UEFA EURO 2016 – where he topped the assists chart – and the arrival of new coach Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge. Often decisive in big games, Hazard ended the campaign with the English title and a personal haul of 16 goals, his highest since moving to England in 2012. Voted Chelsea’s player of the season for a third time, he was also shortlisted for the Premier League player of the season award, eventually losing out to team-mate N’Golo Kante. Now 26, Hazard has likewise developed a maturity that has allowed him to blossom with his national side. The midfielder helped Belgium post five wins and a draw from their first six qualifiers for Russia 2018.
Having joined Manchester United from Paris Saint-Germain for the 2016/17 English Premier League season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued his long-established tradition of lifting silverware at club level. In his debut campaign with the Red Devils, the Swedish striker brought his career trophy tally to 33 after winning the FA Community Shield, the English League Cup and UEFA Europa League. Strong, skilful and renowned for his charisma, Ibra became the oldest player to reach 15 Premier League goals a single season at 35 years and 125 years in February 2017, and finished the campaign with 17 goals in 28 appearances.
An extraordinary midfielder who needs little introduction, Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta remains a colossal figure for both club and country. Known for his footballing intelligence, remarkable passing and leadership on and off the pitch, Iniesta – like team-mate Lionel Messi – brought his staggering trophy count with Barça to 30 after winning the Copa del Rey during the 2016/17 campaign. This established him as the joint-most successful player in the club’s history alongside the Argentinian. Iniesta has also been a key figure for Spain in their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying campaign thus far, helping them to the top of Group G with the kind of inventive performances that have become his trademark.
2016/17 English Premier League top scorer Harry Kane seems to improve every aspect of his game each season. His latest campaign saw him reach the century mark for Tottenham Hotspur and score at least 20 goals for the third consecutive season; something only Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy can say they have done. Kane is the talisman for Mauricio Pochettino’s energetic and youthful Spurs side, and will be one of the leading figures for the club as it transitions to a brand new stadium next season. On the international front, Kane reached a new milestone when he captained England for the first time during a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier against Scotland, where he scored a last-minute equaliser in a 2-2 draw.
N Golo KANTE
An English Premier League champion with Leicester City in 2016, N’Golo Kante followed up by helping Chelsea to the title a year later. The French midfielder had a vital hand in the Foxes’ surprise championship triumph and played an equally important role on joining the Blues. Most of his fellow professionals were in agreement, voting him the 2016/17 PFA Players’ Player of the Year back in April. His stamina, strength and intelligence in reading the game at both ends of the pitch made the former Caen player a key component in the tactical plans adopted by Chelsea coach Antonio Conte and France boss Didier Deschamps. “N’Golo Kante is the best player in the world in his position, and one of the best in his own right,” said an appreciative Deschamps. “He’s an important player and he might become even more important in the future.”
Toni Kroos pulls the strings in midfield for Real Madrid and Germany. He dictates the rhythm of the game and can unlock any defence with his pinpoint passing. He rarely gives the ball away and usually boasts a pass completion rate of over 90 per cent per game. Kroos has been a world-class player for several years and has amassed a huge collection of trophies, including the FIFA Club World Cup. In May this year he helped Real Madrid become the first team ever to successfully defend the UEFA Champions League title. “He’s an extraordinary player,” said club coach Zinedine Zidane of the 27-year-old. “He’s a player who’s unbelievably composed on the ball and thinks quickly. That’s rare. He’s two-footed and an incredibly intelligent player. Obviously it makes things easier when you have someone like him in the team.”
A glance at Robert Lewandowski’s statistics reveals just how invaluable he is. Last season he registered 44 goals in 47 matches for Bayern Munich to finish as the club’s top scorer. The striker is equally clinical at international level, almost single-handedly firing Poland to the top of their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying group, and his world-class ability fired his country to their best-ever placing of fifth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in August 2017. Despite his 6’0″ (1.84m) frame, the forward is extremely agile and has consistently displayed his outstanding technique.
Dauntingly hailed as the long-term successor to no less than Roberto Carlos when he arrived in Madrid, Marcelo is still going strong ten years on and has arguably far surpassed the man he was brought in to replace. The left-back’s fantastic fitness allows him to maraud forward effortlessly – not only setting up goals but also chipping in with a few himself – without neglecting his defensive duties down the flank. The Brazilian won the FIFA Club World Cup, La Liga and the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid last season and is a regular for his country, who have already booked their ticket to the next FIFA World Cup™.
The Croatian midfielder remains the architect behind much of Real Madrid’s success after a stellar 12 months with the Spanish giants. The playmaker was a key figure as Real Madrid won both the Spanish league and the UEFA Champions League, earning a spot in the team of the season for Europe’s elite continental competition. He provided the assist for Cristiano Ronaldo’s second goal in the 4-1 final victory over Juventus, in a scenario played out numerous times over the course of the season. That win in Cardiff saw Modric become the first Croatian to win the Champions League on three occasions. Six months earlier Modric was again prominent as Real Madrid won the FIFA Club World Cup. Modric was named as Player of the Match for his stand-out performance in Real’s semi-final with Mexican side Club America in Yokohama.
While the spotlight tends to shine on their star-studded frontline, the unassuming shot-stopper is a relatively unsung hero at the other end of the pitch for Real Madrid. Indeed, the 30-year-old – who celebrated his birthday last December with a clean sheet in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, which the Merengue went on to win – exhibited his cat-like reflexes throughout a 2016/17 season that culminated with glory in the Spanish league and a second consecutive UEFA Champions League conquest. In contrast to his status for his club, Navas is a hugely iconic figure back in his homeland and consistently showcases his talent for the Costa Rican national team, who are currently well on course to qualify for the next FIFA World Cup™.
It is not uncommon for normally ruthless attackers to lose their nerve upon seeing the 6’3″ (1.93m) goalkeeper looming between the posts, the 24’0″ (7.32m) wide goal frame all of a sudden appearing much smaller. Neuer is superb on his line, dominates his penalty area and is also excellent with the ball at his feet, so much so that he often acts as a ‘sweeper keeper’ outside his box. In September 2016 he succeeded Bastian Schweinsteiger as Germany captain, a role he also took on at Bayern Munich this summer and by the end of the 2016/17 season he had helped the club win a fifth consecutive league title.
After leading Real Madrid to FIFA Club World Cup glory in Japan, the Los Blancos captain’s performances did not dip for the remainder of last season. Demonstrating that he is still one of the world’s top defenders, he ended a five-year wait for another league title and entered the European football history books as a crucial member of the first team to capture back-to-back UEFA Champions League trophies. What sets Ramos apart is his no-nonsense tackling, his versatility and his ability to make his mark in attack. A strong personality and a winning mentality are the other hallmarks of this seasoned campaigner, who also skippers the Spanish national team and has helped La Roja put themselves in a strong position on the road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
Alexis Sanchez continues to be one of world football’s brightest and most consistent stars after another stellar season for English Premier League side Arsenal and South American high-flyers Chile. With his trademark indefatigable contribution, Sanchez played a major role in helping the Gunners to an FA Cup Final victory over league champions Chelsea by scoring the opener in a Player of the Match performance. That saw the Chilean complete a remarkable campaign that included contributing to 45 Arsenal goals in 51 appearances during the season – a tally comprised of 30 goals and 15 assists. Sanchez was equally productive at international level, notably helping Chile to the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup. Sanchez set up a goal in the win over Cameroon and his goal in the group-stage draw against eventual champions Germany saw him overhaul Marcelo Salas as La Roja’s all-time greatest goalscorer.
Despite his credentials as a prolific penalty-box predator, Suarez is steadily refining his game to become an ever more accomplished team player. He has shown as much throughout 2017 – both for Uruguay, particularly in the latter stages of South American qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, and for Barcelona, with whom he lifted the Copa del Rey and fought tooth and nail for the La Liga crown until the very last day of the 2016/17 campaign. Indeed, besides scoring 29 league goals – second only to Lionel Messi – he also laid on a further 13 to top the division’s assist charts for the second consecutive season.
With his quality, consistency and leadership, Vidal continues to be a vital figure for Chile and Bayern Munich alike. Influential for La Roja in their endeavour to reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, El Rey Arturo (King Arthur) also shone at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, playing every minute, chalking up a goal and assist apiece, and eventually coming away with a runners-up medal. One of the first names on the team sheet at Bayern, the energetic midfielder contributed four goals to the Bavarians’ latest Bundesliga conquest and also scored three times in their run to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.